Book Review: 500 Art Quilts

500 Art Quilts 500 Art Quilts by Ray Hemachandra

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Thanks to Lark Books for sending me this book to review. I love getting cool books for free. And this is a really cool book. It is part of Lark Books’ 500 Series, which they appear to have been working on for about 6 years. Taking a quick look a their webpage, it looks like this series would be wonderful if you are stumped for inspiration. They have a variety of titles in this series covering different types of art. Included are glass beads, rings, wooden boxes, polymer clay designs and beaded objects. The only one I have seen is the 500 Art Quilts book.

First off: NO patterns. I have nothing against patterns. They definitely serve their purpose, but I don’t need patterns and basic directions on how to make a quilt in every quilt book published. This book is pure inspiration. There is page after page of contemporary quilt eye candy, which, in certain circumstances, is just what the doctor ordered.

I was nervous that the book would be filled with the same old quilts that are always shown when books and articles are written about art quilts. There were one or two I had seen before, and a few quilts from the 1990s, but for the most part included were quilts that were new to me. I was also pleased to see that the quilts were relatively recent. I was also pleased to see that some new names had their quilts included.

Second, Karey Bresenhan was the juror. Whatever you think about her style, the woman has seen a few quilts in her day and knows good quilts. She has taken the opportunity to select a wide variety of contemporary quilts. There is something for every quiltmaker’s taste in this book. If you like contemporary quilts that jump off from classic patterns, take a look at Kathy York’s piece, Little Cities (pg.15) or Carol Taylor’s Dispersion on pg.366. If you like thread painting, one of the best pieces I have ever seen is Nancy Murty’s Greens for Dinner (pg. 351). For applique’ Kathy Nida’s Lost (pg.217) and Nancy S. Brown’s The Usual Suspects (pg.329) are excellent examples. There are also photo realistic quilts, dispersed dye quilts and everything in between.

Additionally, Bresenhan is a talented writer. Her introduction is wonderful. There is a lot of history, opinion and experience in the two pages allotted to this section. She puts to rest the art vs. craft debate very skillfully, easily links quiltmaking to the broader concepts of art that many trained artists learn in school and made me not want to wait to finish reading because I was so excited about the quilts. It is well written, interesting ans well worth the time to read it.

When I first started to look at this book, I began categorizing the quilt by “like” and “do not like”. Then I stopped, started over and began looking at the quilts purely for inspiration. Every quilt, with a few exceptions, have something I found to inspire me or gave me something to think about. I don’t mean that the quilts sent me a literal message. I was able to look at each page and find something I could look at and wonder how the artist accomplished that particular element. This is definitely a book where a website of further information on each quilt would be welcome.

Third, Lark includes an index of quiltmakers with their city and the page(s) on which their quilts are shown. I love indexes and this makes it much easier to see which artists were included and which ones have more than one quilt. I love seeing names I recognize and there are several acquaintances and one or two friends in the lists of artists. This index would have been improved by include each artists’ blog or website, but I understand the space constraints as well.

Fourth, having so many quilts gives the reader a wide variety from which to be inspired. Some of the quiltmakers have more than one piece in the book. Yvonne Porcella’s Paris View, Lou & Who, Two & Two jumped out at me, because it is so different that the style with which I normally associate her work: the bright colors and black and white checkerboards. The reader can flip between the above and her Dick and Jane (pg.61) to see her evolution as a quiltmaker. There are enough quilts in the book to see progress in people’s work without one person dominating the book.

Fifth, the detail shots the authors have included are well placed and thoughtfully selected. Philippa Naylor’s piece, Star Sign (pg.60) shows a detail of her quilting. The detail is so good, albeit small, that the reader can see the evenness of her stitching, the way she fills in areas and the color changes.

One of the oldest quilts I saw in the book was from 1995. It is Natasha Kempers-Cullen’s piece, Heart of Lightness (pg.43). The quilts are not chronological and, though, I specifically tried to find the oldest pieces so I could try to judge how many times I may have seen the quilts in the book, I don’t know that this piece is the oldest. My impression: most of them I had not seen. A few I have seen once.

While I am a visual person, I am often drawn to the text about a quilt. As a result, I often forget to look at the quilt. Initially I struggled with wanting to know more about the artists’ thoughts on the quilt. Finally, I reminded myself that these quilts are probably on the web somewhere and if I really wanted to find out more, I probably could. Bresenhan speaks to this when she says in her introduction “The goal with this type of work is to remove all distractions, so that the energy and spirit of the art can speak clearly to the viewer.” If she thought about this when selecting the quilts, then I feel I should just look at each page and let the pieces speak to me without interference from words.

There is a strong visual context in the quilts selected. That may sound strange, but since the pieces are reproduced in a book, pieces where the medium or a certain technique are preeminent would not be successful. These types of pieces seemed to be left for a different book or another method of presentation. The one piece in this genre that was included was Hooked on Caffeine by Penelope E. Mace. I love the shape of the fish. I couldn’t figure out why it looked so dirty until I read the materials and techniques list and saw that it was made from coffee filters. I have no doubt that this piece would have much more of an impact in person.

I was also glad to see that the authors did not feel obligated to include some prominent quiltmakers just because of their names. In addition to my own work, I enjoy seeing as much of other quiltmakers’ work as possible. There are tons of quiltmakers in this book whose work is new to me. What a pleasure to be exposed new pieces! Works from renowned quiltmakers were also included, but, again, they did not dominate the book. I was glad to see two of Susan Shie’s tarot deck quilts, one of Jane Sassaman’s pieces and a piece by Judy Coates Perez.

There is a lot of wonderful colorwork shown in this book, such as Faye Timmerman-Traudt’s Desert Blooms and Jan Elliott’s Shot in the Dark.

By now I have glanced through this book at least 10 times. Twice I went through it page by page and consciously looked at each image. Each time, I was able to find something new to look at. I am sure that I will have the same experience next time I look through it.

I think this book is well worth having in your library. I am really glad Lark sent it to me, because I would not have been able to buy it right away otherwise. I hope you will rush out and buy this book and encourage Lark to put together volume 2 in a few years!

Highly recommended!

View all my reviews , including non quilt book reviews